Today I was doing one of my favorite parts of my work – posting flyers to advertise guitar lessons. I know, you thought that with my glamorous jobs (musician, teacher, and writer) that someone else did all that. It’s true that when I’m on tour, someone else does that legwork, unless it’s Provincetown, MA* (a tourist town on Cape Cod). Because clubs book several performers a night, the competition is so fierce that entertainers are expected to do their own advertising — unless you’re Kate Clinton, because she’s famous and really, it’d be weird to see her on the street, doing her own promo.
It took me a while to get used to flyering. Sure, I liked making potential audience members laugh by telling them I was sleeping with kd lang and that’s why they should come to my show. (As if that was a good reason … and that I really was. Just needed to say that, in case her wife wants to let the air out of my tires.) After a while, though, it just made me feel like a ten dollar hooker – hey, come to my show, honey, I got what you want.
One time, I worked with the other entertainers from the bar where we all performed. We had a huge banner advertising the club. We traipsed up the women’s beach, smiling and waving. Every few minutes, we’d stop. That was my cue to crank up the boom box that played John Phillips Sousa. I’d twirl the baton while the others pressed palms with pieces of paper. I don’t know if we actually got audience members or if we just looked desperate.
Back to today and why I usually enjoy it. It gets me outside and I love to walk. It’s hard in January, sure, especially when the temperature has a minus sign in front of it. I’ve learned what an advantage it is to have really good winter boots and to know where the coffee shops are. If my hands ache too much from the cold, I can stop in at Bridgehead and get a steaming cup of java to hold and drink.
Why don’t I just wear a thick pair of gloves? Tape and gloves don’t mix. I’ve tried all kinds of styles and there’s only one pair of gloves that gives me the dexterity I need to work with the tape. They were warm gloves when I got them in Arizona, but there, winter consists of two days of frost on your windshield. We’re talking Canada, baby, where everyone eats moose and lives in igloos.
I usually hear from one or two potential students after I post those flyers, so it’s worth it to me. It’s also one more day that I don’t have drag myself to the gym.
The stereotype about polite Canadians is mostly true, except when it comes to flyering. On one frigid winter day, I spent a couple of hours taping up flyers. The next day, someone had covered up every one. Just when I was ready to hunt them down and make them watch the golf channel for a week straight, I took a closer look at their posters. They were advertising a meditation workshop. I went back and posted over every one of their flyers. Meditate on that.
I have a whole set-up that works for me – an open shoulder bag, lots of tape and I make sure I’m wearing ultra-comfortable footwear. Once, I saw a guy on roller blades, and another time, on a skate board. If I didn’t think I’d bust one of these middle-aged bones, I’d give that a shot. Another time, I saw two women with one of those baskets that you take to the grocery store. One would carefully pull out a poster, the other would slowly unroll the tape, then they’d cautiously put it up on the bulletin board, smooth it out … I posted four flyers for every one they did. I hope they weren’t getting paid by the hour.
Right after I moved to Ottawa, a panhandler thoughtfully told me that city employees were just a couple of blocks behind me, taking down every flyer I’d posted. Before I had time to get really angry, I read the tiny writing at the top of each city bulletin board, “Advertisements are taken down on the first and fifteenth of each month.” It was the fifteenth. Always read the small type, folks.
Once, while I was carefully taping up a flyer, a woman came up behind me and loudly inquired, “Are those lessons free?” Sure. That’s why I’m out here in minus-ten weather.
I’ve had nicer conversations with folks, especially if they’re truly interested in lessons. Just today, a guy stopped to tell me that he took classes when he was seven. He’s in his sixties now. I responded that maybe it was time to give it another shot. He laughed and tore one of the tabs from the bottom of the flyer.
Another time, on St Patrick’s Day, I was really enjoying being out in the sunny day. I was in the Market, an area of the city with lots of bars and because it wasn’t nostril-freezing weather, many of the places had opened their patios. As you can imagine, lots of drinking and merriment was going on. A stranger watched me post a flyer, then tapped me on the shoulder, pointed at a noisy crowd of revelers and asked me in broken English, “What is it they are celebrating?” I did my best to explain St Patrick’s Day. His confused expression told me he was only getting part of it, but still, he smiled and thanked me. He said he had moved there recently from Afghanistan, so this was new to him. I grinned and said, “Welcome to Canada!”
I didn’t care if he wanted guitar lessons. However, if you want them, I’d be happy to talk with you. I teach in Ottawa, ON, most of the time, but also in Durham, NC and sometimes at music festivals and schools. Contact me here.
*Want to know more about my experiences in Provincetown? There’s a whole chapter about it in my new collection of road stories, tentatively titled Drive All Night. It’ll be out in 2014 on Bella Books.
Do any of these images belong to you? Please let me know. I can either take them down or credit them to you. (I use Google Images and they don’t usually tell me where the pictures originate.)